Yesterday, Hillary Clinton officially announced that she would be running for president in 2016. This was, perhaps, the most anti-climactic, long-predicted campaign announcement of all time (even if it did come in the form of a spiffy YouTube video!), and so it didn’t really seem like there would be all that much drama surrounding the throwing of Clinton’s hat into the ring, unless you count conservative misogyny as “drama” and we don’t because it’s so predictable and banal (if still loathsome) at this point that it’s just so much background noise. And yet! It turned out that there was going to be some drama surrounding Clinton’s campaign kick-off, only it wouldn’t come from one of the usual suspects; no, this drama would be courtesy of one of Clinton’s long-time supporters: New York’s very own Mayor Bill de Blasio. Drama!
First, a little Clinton-de Blasio background: As per the New York Times, the two have a long and storied relationship. It was after all, Clinton who “plucked [de Blasio] from obscurity to run her 2000 campaign for United States Senate, sat onstage at his swearing-in as mayor of New York City and, just this month, visited Brooklyn for a high-profile photo opportunity with his wife.” And the fact that Clinton’s campaign headquarters are located in Brooklyn, where de Blasio’s heart (and gym) resides, even if his body is in Gracie Mansion? Surely that can’t be mere coincidence! That these two are incredibly politically and philosophically aligned is indisputable, and so naturally one of the first high profile New York Democrats to endorse Clinton would be de Blasio, right? Well, not so fast.
As the Times reports, even though other high profile New York Democrats like Senator Charles Schumer and Governor Andrew Cuomo have already “offered full-throated approval on Sunday of Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy,” de Blasio has not yet endorsed her candidacy and “repeatedly declined to offer Mrs. Clinton his blessing during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying he would hold off until learning more about his former boss’s economic platform.”
De Blasio told host Chuck Todd, “Like a lot of people in this country, I want to see a vision… I think she’s one of the most qualified people to ever run for this office and, by the way, thoroughly vetted… But we need to see the substance.”
While many people are speculating that de Blasio is holding back because even though Clinton might be a tried-and-true Democrat, she’s hardly what one would call “progressive,” other New York Democrats who identify as being progressive, like City Comptroller Scott Stringer have endorsed Clinton. Stringer says: “We progressives have a lot of work to do to influence the direction of the Democratic Party and this country… I believe that Hillary Clinton is the best candidate to take that progressive mantle and move forward against the Republican right wing.”
And while I’d certainly like to think that Stringer’s belief in Clinton’s progressive aims is justified, we can’t help but be skeptical that Clinton’s platform will morph into anything even remotely resembling a true progressive agenda—Elizabeth Warren she’s not. Which, you know, is fine. It’s fine because I’d rather have a Democratic candidate who isn’t hiding behind a political stance (one, which, not incidentally, would not necessarily make her as electable in, say, Nevada as it would in New York City) in which she doesn’t truly believe. I’d rather have a candidate be as honest as possible when campaigning so that the resultant time in office doesn’t feel like a betrayal of previously stated ideals. Which isn’t to say I think Clinton’s presidency is a foregone conclusion or that I think she will be the only viable Democratic candidate, only that, since she’s running and since she has a good shot at the nomination, I’d rather know as much as possible about what she stands for—and progressivism doesn’t really seem to be it. After all, Clinton voted for the Patriot Act and to enter the Iraq War, was a relatively hawkish Secretary of State, has strong ties to the finance community, and is pro-military drones. None of this makes her all that different than your average Democrat, but it certainly doesn’t make her a model progressive candidate.
But back to de Blasio. Some speculate that this is payback for the fact that Clinton only endorsed him in his mayoral bid once he’d won the primary, while others (including Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen called de Blasio “self aggrandizing,” but later apologized—sort of) accuse the mayor of using this opportunity to promote himself onto a national stage. And this might all be true. It probably is. De Blasio—like his semi-mentors the Clintons—is a consummate politician—he knows what he’s doing when he remains the sole big name NY Dem to withhold his endorsement. And yet I also can’t help but be pleased that our mayor is making this stand. The inevitability of Clinton’s campaign announcement was matched only the inevitability of how many mainstream Democrats would rush to support her—no matter what her positions were. And what are they exactly? Clinton’s new campaign website doesn’t lay out her platform—there’s basically a donation and volunteering page and a bio. Maybe instead of blindly supporting Clinton because she’s a name and face we recognize or because we know she can’t be as bad as whatever monster the Republicans are going to have running isn’t necessary right now. Maybe we should all take a page from de Blasio’s book and wait and see what it is we’ll be endorsing when—or if—we finally decide to say we’re voting for Hillary.
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